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Aztec architecture refers to the structural remains of the Aztec civilization. Much of what is known about Aztec architecture comes from the structures that are still standing. These structures have survived for several centuries because of the strong materials used and the skill of the builders.
Aztec cities often competed to construct the greatest temples in the Aztec empire. In so doing, instead of demolishing an old temple and building a new one at the same site, they simply built over the old structure. Often, the temples were immense, well-proportioned, and beautifully decorated. Some temples have been found to have at least four or five layers.
Houses were uniform throughout most of the empire, only varying in size and ornamentation. Houses were built with logs and were not separated, thus resulting in one large room.
The Hueyi Teocalli (Great Temple) was a large temple with a wash basin at the top. This temple was between 100 and 80 meters tall and was the biggest building in the Aztec city Tenochtitlan.
Aztec architectural sites include:
- Tenayuca (conquered by the Aztec circa 1434; the earliest known example of the typical Aztec double pyramid, which consists of joined pyramidal bases supporting two temples)
- Templo Mayor
The Aztec civilization originated in Central America. Likewise, the architecture of the ancient Aztec architecture reflects that of the natives' traditions, culture, religion, and everyday life. The ancient Aztecs relied on cosmology, astronomy, and religion as their main sources of inspiration. The most prominent of features are the Aztec temples which were built for the purpose of appeasing the gods, so many of their features reflect that goal. The temples were terraced pyramids with steep stairs leading up to the main temple.
Eagle – representative of the sun and warriors
Serpents – represented water or fire
Conch shell – an important symbol of fertility
Frogs and sea creatures – represented Tlaloc Symbols 
Structural and engineering technologies
As seen in prior sections, the Aztecs had advanced knowledge of building techniques. J. A. Joyce, a journalist for The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, states that "The physical geography of Central America was favorable to the rise of the art of building in stone" (159). Aztecs, with only primitive technologies, were very skilled with stone and masonry to construct these massive temples. With that, the Aztecs also had knowledge of brick and mortar. With this very strong combination, they built the massive structures that have withstood the test of time.
At the same time, with the high level of stone masonry, the Aztecs also knew how to properly build on the local geology and terrain. The area that this civilization is located in has a warm climate. The soil is soft and is prone to sink. The Aztecs realized this and built strong stone bases for the temples, similar to how a building or house has a foundation layer in modern time. These foundations made sure that the large structures on top of them would not crumble back into the earth. Aztecs can be seen as great engineers for this reason.
Uses of structures and civil technologies
The temples were not the only amazing works of engineering the Aztecs constructed. On top of the importance of the temples and their symbolism, the Aztecs also had a bustling civilization to take care of. They had advanced knowledge of agriculture and city planning. The ancient Aztecs used gravity to make a running water system, bringing fresh water to the city grid. They also were masters at terracing and tempering the land to the benefits needed..
Relationship with Aztec Culture
From the artworks, temples, cultural contributions, and even the common household, the architectural style of the Aztecs always represented a higher power. The Aztecs believed in a religion known as Mesoamerican . This had aspects of human sacrifice. With that, the Aztecs designed their buildings to be functional for everyday life, as well as their religious practices.
The temples were designed as an ascending experience. There were multiple torn levels, all different in classes. At the top was the main temple. The idea of ascension was to prepare one's self so that the gods would be pleased when arriving at the top. At the top was where the sacrifices took place, so the Aztecs could be as close to the gods as possible to please them.
As for the households, they were simpler yet uniform to the rest of the civilization. The Aztecs did not want a mismatched civilization. This may displease the gods in the eyes of the Aztecs. Houses could be one to two stories tall and were for all classes. Priests were the only ones with access to the temples.
The demise of civilization
Sadly, with all the beautiful and cultural contributions the Aztecs made, the empire had finally come to its demise. Matthew Restall, a researcher of The Historical Association, put it this way. "Our general assumption is that the very nature of the Aztec Empire, its morbid and fatalistic obsession with human sacrifice, made its moral underpinnings and political structure weak, and made it vulnerable to rapid conquest by confident Spanish conquistadors wielding with equal intensity both the steel sword and the Catholic faith." (12) With the installation of the conquistadors, the Aztecs, along with many other civilizations, fell to a more technologically advanced system. This left these amazing ruins of Aztec architecture to be discovered.
As is already known, the Aztecs had rich traditions. They expressed it not only through their architecture, but their art as well. Sculptures and depictions of traditions, gods, local creatures, and much more decorated the streets and building sides. Much of this artwork is local to northern and central Mexico. The influence of this art can be seen as far as Utah in the United States. This shows the influence of the Aztecs at the time. These artworks are primarily preserved in museums at this point, but some still exist on site.
Separation of Classes
One of the staples of all civilization is the separation of classes. As most civilizations do today, the Aztecs held this concept throughout their culture. As previously stated, the highest rank one could get in the Aztec social class was that of the priesthood. This gave access to the temples and richer quarters of the civilizations. These individuals lived around the temples while lower classes lived increasingly further away according to their status. The first circle was first class. The Second, middle class. The Third, lower class. Jan Marie Olson, a writer of Cambridge University Press, states that "this line of Aztec class analysis posits major differences in wealth, power and status leading to significant lifestyle differences between nobles and commoners" (133). The rich and the poor lived among each other, as religion brought the civilization together, but each class had different roles.
Umberger, Emily. “MATLATZINCO BEFORE THE AZTECS: JOSÉ GARCÃA PAYÓN AND THE SCULPTURAL CORPUS OF CALIXTLAHUACA.” Ancient Mesoamerica; Cambridge, vol. 28, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1–19
Restall, Matthew. “The Aztec Empire: a Surprise Ending?” The Historical Association, no. 134, 2017, pp. 12–17.
Olson, Jan M. “MATERIAL EXPRESSIONS OF WEALTH AND SOCIAL CLASS AT AZTEC-PERIOD SITES IN MORELOS, MEXICO.” Cambridge University Press, vol. 27, no. 1, 2016, pp. 133–147.
Joyce, J. A. “Some Features of Mexican Architecture.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, vol. 19, ser. 99, June 1911, pp. 154–163. 99.
- Bernal, I; Coe, M; et al. (1973). The Iconography of Middle American sculpture. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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